Sunday, 25 December 2016

Throwing Stones

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”


Winston Churchill

Such is the current disarray at Carmarthenshire County Council that if there ever was a planned policy, "a destination", for the area, no-one is clear what it was. Much of the energy and focus of the political leaders and senior local government civil servants seems to be taken up by the stone throwing. The consequences of historical actions seemingly motivated by thin skins and the desire to rewrite the record after the facts after failure, have stacked up.

Although most dogs retire hurt after a few stones, others will keep barking. 

These citizens have taken the hits from many stones but fail to tolerate injustice and are still prepared to bear witness to what has actually happened,
The elites who run the council continue to use propaganda and publicity services, legal action and quiet threats to keep the lid on a boiling pot of discontent.

I've been criticised in the past by Mr Mark James, the Council's chief executive, for asking too many questions but certainly I cannot complain about having too many answers. I used to get a lot of evasive answers and still get a few of those, but the number of "no shows" with no explanation of the lack of reply is growing

If I, as an elected Councillor, can't get answers to questions relating to the County Council and its actions,what chance is there of the public having its voice heard?. The idea of basic democracy is being ignored by those who think they know best. The public should, perhaps, not be troubled by things they do not need to know, especially if the truth will upset them!  

Over 150 years ago Abraham Lincoln described democracy as "government of the people,by the people, for the people".

The people in charge here are not accountable to the people they serve. Perhaps feel they are superior, qualified to dictate, rather than respond to the needs of others. Even elected members here usually have more loyalty to their political parties than their voters.


The general system relies on 2 premises:

a) That senior local government officers continue to control elected councillors by a combination of threats and flattery, tolerated by those elected councillors.

b) That the local electorate does not significantly change its voting patterns, thereby returning to "power" many of the current crew, well trained in the local system of control, rewards and retribution

Politics is a long game, but change will surely come. 

Siân Caiach 

Friday, 16 December 2016

THE FUTURE OF THE STEEL INDUSTRY - A NEW COMMERCIAL OUTLOOK FOR WALES


Robin Burn argues that commercial steel is still viable in Wales

In a recent article, The Llanelli Herald, published November 11th, Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, analyses the prospects for the steel industry in South Wales. The thrust of his argument discusses the role of the Government in Wales and the United Kingdom, and how Governments can influence policy decisions of the steel making industry in respect of support interventions. Similar comments were voiced by the Member of Parliament for Llanelli, Nia Griffith published in the Llanelli Star Wednesday 14th December issue.

As the Assembly Member contemplates the role of Government from a political viewpoint, more importantly the actions of the steel making companies themselves , in safeguarding their own futures, play an equal part.


History tells us Government intervention, however well intentioned, has never been the solution to industrial strategy, and long term survival, as Governments’ change their intervention strategy, depending on the nature of the political decision making, of the party in power.

The steel industry in the United Kingdom has been serving the economic welfare of the United Kingdom and its industrial base, longer than some political parties have been in existence. Its ability to change, meeting the demands of the engineering sector, has been the basis of its survival strategy.



The argument, proffered by the Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, government intervention as a sole solution is misguided in as much as, it ignores the role played by the steel industry itself , by its engineers and scientists, developing the techniques and industrial practise to ensure its long term survival. Government has a role to play in ensuring the industry has a stable platform on which it can develop to survive, not give it an artificial prop as a short term solution.  Government with its policy may not always be favoured by future regimes.

The engineering industry in the United Kingdom, is one of the provision of  products of increasing sophistication, to meet the needs of advanced technology, of high integrity engineering. The United Kingdom is in the forefront of increasingly advanced engineering, in aerospace, defence and power generation, all of which have the requirement of advanced, special high specification steel, it all of  its producable forms both cast and wrought.

The need for mass produced, high volume wrought long product of a reduced quality, and by nature lower value, has to be scaled back as no longer viable, replaced by the higher specification steels required by the advanced engineering industries.

The steel making industry is a global one, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the worlds installed steelmaking capacity, is projected to increase to2.36 billion tons by 2017. One third more steel than the world actually needs.

It was argued in an earlier discussion document,(A different Nuclear Solution; People First website,www.peoplefirstwales.org.uk ; 6th August 2016) that the replacement nuclear power station at Hinkley Point could be a solution provided by the building in the United Kingdom utilising existing technology used in building small nuclear generators used in nuclear submarines. The special steel cast and wrought steel product used in the building of such nuclear reactors exist made in United Kingdom steel production plants.

The home based steel production plants can, and are being contemplated in, replacing their production techniques and equipment to make the very high steel product required for  advanced engineering needs.

On October,13th , the annual event Bessemer Day, held jointly by IOM3 and the Iron and Steel Society, was held in collaboration with the South Wales Materials Association (SWMA), at the new Bay Campus at Swansea University.
The culmination of the day was the presentation by Professor Alan Cramb, President of thee Illinois Institute of Technology, winner of the 2016 Bessemer Gold Medal, of the Bessemer Lecture.
Cramb, born in Scotland, studied metallurgy in Scotland, has worked for many years in the American Steel Industry, and a worldwide teacher of steel technology in steel plants.
His presentation, Steel Processing Technology: Potential Futures, a review now published in Materials World Vol.24 No.12 December 2016, reviewed steels past, then looked forward to the future posing the question- what is the future for steel processing?

His progressive thinking suggested, the capability to produce liquid cast iron in volumes less than 500,000 tonnes per year, to carbon-less low temperature reduction of iron oxide to controlled size iron powder for 3D laser splintering to form steel products.

Cramb made three future suggestions for the steel Industry, some options already being practised in other dominant steel making countries.

Firstly, the use of recycled steel scrap, electric arc furnace re-melting is the preferred industry route. In America, 65% of steel tonnage comes from scrap metal. 
 As an example of steel making practise being contemplated to improve efficiency, one steel making plant in South Wales, is replacing its steel melting practise, to the use of re-melting graded scrap in electric furnaces.
However, continuous recycling practise has a detrimental effect on the quality of the end product due to build up impurities of copper and tin, both of which are responsible for reduction in quality, in terms of mechanical properties.
Current practise is to blend; with blast furnace produced pig iron free from copper and tin to offset the reduction of quality. The news of the retention of the two blast furnaces in Port Talbot is welcomed to supply impurity free iron product to steel melting practise.   

Other countries’ steel making plants are utilising municipal waste , to convert into energy, for their internal needs, as a cost reducing measure, which eases the burden on the Local Authority’s for its waste disposal management. The announced building of an electricity generating power station in a TATA plant in South Wales possibly fuelled by recycled biomass and other municipal wastes would be following established practise.

Robin Burn at Tata Steel. Llanelli



The engineers and scientists employed in the steel industry, via their various Chartered Institutions of Engineering, Metal and Material production, are working together collectively; to provide the engineering and scientific solutions needs of today’s high quality engineering. 
Seminars and conferences pertaining to developments in steel making practise are planned.
Since the development and utilisation of the converter by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1856,to the use of strip casting of carbon steels in 2000, the industry itself has progressed continuously with production innovation , as well as development of new steel types, most notably the development of stainless steel alloys by Brearley, and Krupp in 1914.

Robin Burn I Eng. FIMMM







Saturday, 10 December 2016

Carmarthenshire Council Chair refuses Plaid motion on libel and legal costs.

The Chair of Carmarthenshire Council is a pleasant elderly gentleman called Eryl Morgan. A local grammar school boy who went to Oxford and became a social worker. Whenever we meet he asks me to join the Labour party in a friendly manner and I politely decline. He's told me he knows none of the detail of the libel actions which were commenced when he was not a County Councillor. Unfortunately the rejection of a motion trying to resolve the present situation by a debate in Council on Wednesday 14th December 2016 is issued in his name.

 He is now the puppet being used to smother democratic debate on the fall out of Carmarthenshire County Council's decision to allow its Chief Executive to formally comment on a blog using a carefully prepared and scripted statement composed with the assistance of the Council's press office and the advice of our legal department.  Lets look at the history of this sad saga.

 The purpose of the "statement" on the Madaxeman blog was to discredit the local blogger Jacqui Thompson who was campaigning hard to get County Council public meetings freely filmed and available on line.We had just had the woman arrested and detained by the police for some hours and forced to sign a form promising not to be naughty and never film the council ever again. There was no evidence that she would not honour the agreement but someone felt the need to justify our hostility to her personally and to filming council meetings by posting a statement on this blog.
Silent Councillor Meryl Gravell, 

.Whose bright idea this was is not completely clear  The Leader of Council at the time was Meryl Gravell and she must have been at the very least informed, and compliant. Her silence on this whole matter which she probably initiated, I believe, shows that she's not proud of her actions.Perhaps too afraid to admit any regret or accept any responsibility? She's retiring as a councillor next May, possibly to take up a full time position with the Swansea City Bay Region. All skeletons to be left locked in the cupboard deep in the cellars of County Hall?

All County Councillors were soon informed that the chief executive, had, on behalf of the council, made the statement on an unnamed blog. The statement was sent to all of them. I doubt many complained. I did and the documentation of the tracking of my rather negative reply was later released to Jacqui's lawyers with most information on it redacted. As I had already been warned that my emails were being monitored I was not surprised to see this. There were distinctive features which gave away exactly which email this was, despite names,text and dates being wholly or partially redacted.

Despite the CCC advice that the tirade of character assassination was not libellous, Mrs Thompson got a legal opinion that it was. She started a libel action against the Council and Mr James,An initial plan to settle out of court for a modest sum accepted by Mrs Thompson,
was ditched
.
 The executive board in January 2012 was persuaded not only to pay for Mr James' libel defence as an officer of the council but also a specialist libel  lawyer advised a counter claim based on Jacqui;s Blog comments about Mr James, The libel was defended and the counter claim won with Mr James awarded damages. It cost the Council well over £200k .The £25,000 damages Mr James had promised the Executive board to return to the council were now apparently, according to a press statement by himself, to be given to charity. I have asked Mr James whether this is correct and have not received a reply.

 In that 2012 meeting Mr James claims that he is not interested in the money if damages were awarded and will return them to CCC to offset their legal costs.The man subsequently has not explained whether or why the money is to be used by him personally in some fashion  The current Council Leader, Emlyn Dole, is unable to tell me the actual position either and therefore he has not authorised a change in this original agreement, but another Leader may have. All very mysterious.

It does not matter to Mrs Thompson materially as to whether or not the sale of her home, to obtain the costs or damages from her half share, benefits the Council or Mr James' favourite charities but it does say something of who is in control  when our most senior civil servant may apparently play "pick and mix" with executive board decisions. Perhaps he thought that a strategy planned in secret would never be available for scrutiny by the public. It is only the investigation by the Wales Audit Office which found the funding for Mr James unlawful, which has brought the previously "exempt" document to light. Most other critical exempt executive documents are never seen by ordinary councillors or the public.

I am sure that the majority of current councillors, in a free vote, would not wish to enforce the sale of Mrs Thompson's home. Much of the legal costs are insured and the whole affair was a plan to stop the Filming of Council meetings, which now happens routinely and without harm to our local democratic processes, This has become a farce, I cannot even find out whether Mr James has changed his mind about the damages because its a personal matter which he wishes to keep secret from me. So I do not know whether:
a)He is maintaining the agreement to return any damages to the Council [and we councillors could ask him to not do so or us by forcing the sale of Jacqui's home on our behalf].
or
b) He has taken a personal decision not to return any monies recovered as per a press report offering to give the money to charity[and we councillors could ask him why? He did promise to return the damages to us in January 2012, I gather he did not sign an agreement. A verbal statement only was minuted, which he could challenge as not binding.The bottom line here is trust, CCC paid £40,000 for his legal fees].

 Plaid Councillors Lenny and Campbell have been informed by the Chair that their motion [suggesting that negotiation to allow Mrs Thompson to keep her family home are commenced] is unacceptable to the  chair. The council legal advice seems to be is that if damages or legal costs in this case were waived or affordable instalment payments accepted,this may leave the Council open to the charge of contempt of court. No case law is quoted and I doubt this explanation is valid.
Carmarthenshire Council Chairman  Eryl Morgan

Eryl Morgan enjoys an extra £9,000 p.a., lots of free lunches and public functions, a big gold necklace and a car and driver as County Chair. In  our Council it's a post not primarily of authority but mainly of ceremony. A little treat for seniority and loyalty. The 3 major parties take it in turns to hold the post and only one candidate is put forward. The downside is that the chair is supposed to be in charge of our monthly full council meetings but in fact the decisions seem to be made elsewhere,

 I suppose its to Eryl's credit that he is not trusted to send the recent emails informing Councillors that their submissions cannot be discussed, The Head of Administration and Law does that, claiming to be acting on the chair's instructions. I met the chair just before the last council meeting in November. He could not give me an explanation, face to face, as to why he had rejected my question to the Leader for that meeting despite having allegedly instructed the Head of Law to contact me rejecting the question only days before.

The real tragedy is that Councillors cannot protect the quality of people's lives, livelihoods, services environment and monitor the use of the public's money entrusted to the Council when the democratic process in the Council just does not work. The reputation of Carmarthenshire County Council was not "saved" by using a large amount of public money on a High Court Libel defence and counter claim, but trashed instead. If the Libel case decision had not been made in secret by a small clique it would probably never have been made at all.

. Siân Caiach,     Carmarthenshire County Councillor for Hengoed Ward, Llanelli

Update December 12th 2016
I have this morning sent an urgent request to Linda Rees Jones, Head of Legal at CCC to ask for the case law and precedents informing the Chair's decision not to allow the Plaid Councillors' notice of motion to be debated in our Carmarthenshire Full Council meeting on the 14th

Update December 13th 2016
Although in his email to all councillors of the text of the statement put on the Madaxeman blog in 2011, Mr James states " Members have asked that a response be sent to Mrs Thompson." 
He does not explain why the response had to be via the Madaxeman's blog or mention which members requested it.
 In the libel court case, I have just discovered, Mr James says in his evidence statement that no formal instruction was given to him by any councillor. I may therefore be mistaken in my assumption that the Council Leader, Mrs Gravell, had anything to do with a formal order to post the statement on that blog.
 Email records released to the court show that a member of the press office and 2 other council officers were involved advising Mr James in the composition of the statement but no councillor seems to have reviewed the document prior to publication. So Mrs Gravell may have had nothing to do with it, or perhaps an "informal" role.

Siân Caiach,.